Tess’s Cats, Milk (left), Muffin (right)
For mental health week 16-22 of May. Tess generously shares her experiences of mental health crisis. Her experiences show how people in crisis don’t recognise, practice, professionals, policies and procedures. Instead they recognise people, their kindnesses and willingness to help.
14th May 2013
10.30am – Am woken by banging on living room window. The living room is the back room of the terraced house I’ve been living in alone (plus two cats) for nearly three years. For the last nine months I’ve been sleeping on the living room floor which is uncarpeted. I simply don’t have the energy to go upstairs so I sit on the floor. I sleep on the floor.
10.31am – See that it’s my landlord and the letting agency person trying to get in. I’m several months behind on my rent. I lost my job in December following six months of mandatory sick leave due to stress and escalating mental health issues. I’ve not been taking my medication properly as that would mean leaving the house and seeing my GP for prescriptions so I try to make each box last as long as possible. The medication I’m on is strong and has awful withdrawal symptoms. It means my body is in as bad a state as my head is because the withdrawal makes me not want to eat and I don’t have the energy to wash. It’s been months since I last changed my clothes, showered, ate a proper meal. I make sure the cats are well looked after but I neglect every aspect of my own well-being.
10.32am – Run to the front room where I left the cable ties I bought weeks previously. My plan has been that when my overdraft stops allowing me money, I’ll kill myself. The idea is to fasten several rows of cable ties around my neck and wait. The landlord appearing makes me think I’m about to be evicted immediately. I don’t have time to think. I can’t see beyond needing to escape the situation I’m in. He’s going to throw me on the street. I’m going to lose my cats. They are the only reason I’m still alive. I can’t allow anything bad to happen to them.
10.35am – I bought the wrong cable ties. I got the short ones not the 30cm ones. I’m having to connect them together before putting them around my neck. My hands are shaking. I keep connecting them together facing the wrong direction. I don’t have a mirror to see how to get them on my neck. It’s taking a long time. It’s taking too long.
10.38am – Have five rows on my neck but I can’t get them tight enough. I’m not aware of anything other than my need to make everything end. My nails won’t grip into the grooves. There isn’t anything around to help me get them tight. My breathing has become jagged and shallow but it isn’t anything as bad as I experience in asthma attacks. My eyes feel as though I’ve just pressed my eye lids and opened them again – I can see some stars but not enough to stop me from seeing where I am.
10.40am – Why am I still awake? This is taking too long. It isn’t working. I should be unconscious by now. Why I am still here? I need to find another way to do this. I need to get these things off my neck. I need a plan B.
10.41am – There is nothing sharp in this room. I need to get to the bathroom. There are scissors in the bathroom. I get to my feet and stumble to the door. When I stood up I become very dizzy. I have to get the scissors. I have to make this stop so I can be dead faster. The only way I can die is if I stop trying to die.
10.42am – I’m on the kitchen floor. I’ve tripped over something while heading to the bathroom. The floor is moving too much. Why is the floor moving so much?
10.43am – In bathroom. Neck is swollen. Scissors can’t get into the spaces beneath the ties. Have to scratch my finger nails under to create some room to cut them off. It is crushing my windpipe. It’s going to stop me from stopping what I’m doing. I need to get them off, it’s the only way I can succeed.
10.45am – They are off. My neck hurts. My face hurts. Everything above my shoulders feels swollen and puffy. The cats want to be fed. I need to feed the cats. Then I need to write a note while I think of a second plan.
11.15am – There is a loud banging on the front door. It’s the police. I need to finish what I’m writing. If I ignore them they will go away. I won’t let them throw me out. I’m too busy.
11.17am – The banging is on the back door now as well as the front. There is banging on all the windows. I start crying. It’s the first time I’ve cried today. It’s the first time I’ve felt scared. I go to the kitchen and shout through the door that I’m ok. That I want to be left alone. A man tells me to open the door. That they are worried. That they need to see that I’m safe. I’ve grabbed a knife out of the drawer. I’m trying to cut my wrist. I shout that they have nothing to worry about. I’m safe. There isn’t a problem. The man says if I don’t open the door, they will be forced to break in. I put the knife down. I tell them I’ll open the front door instead. I can see shadows of at least four people in my back yard.
11.19am – I open the front door a few inches. I live on a main road, there is lots of cars and people outside. There is also around eight police persons. I say what I think they want to hear and hide my wrist. I try to say goodbye. The man puts his foot in the door. He says they just need to come in and make sure I’m ok. I say the landlord wants to throw me out. The man says they can’t. That the police won’t let them. That they are here to look after me not do what the landlord wants. He says they rang the police because I was on the floor and I wasn’t moving. They need to check I’m ok. I open the door and move aside. The man, another policeman and two policewomen come in. They ask me more about my mental health. My tablets. My care providers. They want to get me in to the GP. While we talk the letting agency man starts messing with the lock on the front door. I start sobbing. He’s moved by police. I hear the word distress. I don’t see him or the landlord again that day.
11.25am – The GP won’t see me as the police can’t disclose anything. There is nothing to disclose as I’ve not told them anything. The police outside suddenly start moving quickly. There is a burglary in process nearby. The man leaves and the two policewomen arrange with me that someone will come back in one hour to take me to the Duty Professional for a chat.
11.30am – I’m alone again. I’m scared. I sit on the floor and cry. My cats climb all over me. They are afraid too. My wrist isn’t bleeding but there is a large open wound. I go to the bathroom to wash my face.
11.31am – I’m looking into the mirror and I don’t recognise myself. There is haemorrhaging around my eyes, like red spotty panda eyes. There is more around my temples and my nose. My face is very swollen. My neck has red grooves and cuts where it isn’t puffy. There is no mistaking, even from across a room, what I have done.
1pm – A policeman arrives. He asks if I’ve got any clothes without fur on them as he’s just cleaned the car. I panic. I don’t. I have a t-shirt under my hoodie so I remove the hoodie and go to the car. He lets me sit in the front which is some relief.
1.10pm – I’m dropped off outside the Bennett Centre. He doesn’t walk me in. When I go in it transpires that mental health services don’t run from there any more, that I should have been taken to the Hope Centre. The staff ring the police to find out what is happening. They are told to keep me with them until they can arrange for another police car to collect me.
3pm – A car arrives with a policeman and a PCSO. The staff at the Bennett Centre have been lovely. They never asked what happened but I wasn’t left alone. As they offer neuropsychiatry services there now, they are able to tell me a bit about what I might be facing in the coming hours. I talked about my fears of being sectioned and was told about what inpatient wards are really like and had the myths broken. I was spoken to like an intelligent adult. I never felt scared when I was there. Like a child, yes. But never scared.
3.10pm – Arrived at the Hope Centre. I travelled in the back of the car as I was being escorted by two officers but they were chatty and lovely. In the Hope Centre I am left in the empty waiting area while the officers hand over to the staff. I take a drawing pin out of a notice board and puncture holes in my fingertips.
3.30pm – The police have left and a social worker takes me to an office to talk about what has happened. I flatly tell him about my day, the months previously, my decade long mental health history. I show him my wrist. He says I need stitches. He tells me the police have advised I be sectioned. He tells me he doesn’t think that will be necessary. He wants a doctor to check my eyes and neck. He leaves to arrange an ambulance.
3.45pm – The ambulance arrives. I’m checked over and taken to A&E. When we arrive the driver goes to find a wheelchair. Although I’m able to wait and walk into reception, I’m told I need to go straight into cubicles. That my appearance might be unsettling for other people in the waiting area. It takes some time so the paramedic tells me about how the haemorrhaging on my face is nothing to worry about, that people can get it from the force of vomiting, that it will fade in a few days. He has cats. We exchange stories.
4pm – I’m left in the ambulance triage area by the cubicles in a wheelchair. The ambulance men go on another call. There isn’t a cubicle free so they take my blood pressure and say I’ll be moved when they find me a space on a ward. I’m crying, I’m scared, I don’t understand what is happening and I’m alone. I’m ignored.
4.20pm – Wheeled to a ward and put in a room next to the nurses station. A doctor checks everything and says my eyes and neck are fine. My wrist will need steri-strips and glue. Someone will be along shortly.
4.40pm – My wrist is put back together. I need to stay until I’m assessed by the crisis team. They don’t know when it will be.
5pm – A nurse stops by with a cup of tea and some cake a patient made as a thank you for the staff on the ward. She stays and chats to me for a while about nothing in particular. Having isolated myself from everyone for so long, it’s the first meaningless chat I’ve had for many months. I feel a shred of strength return.
6pm – No crisis team. Whenever I go to the toilet within seconds there is a knock on the door to check if going to the toilet is “all” I’m doing
7pm – Still waiting.
8pm – Waiting. I have some toast. It’s the first thing I’ve eaten all day. People who work on the ward have been dropping in to chat to me when they have some time. At the shift change about four people come in to wish me well and tell me to have hope.
10pm – I’m asked if I want to get into the bed as I wait. I say I’d rather sit in the chair. I’m hopeful I won’t have to stay long.
Midnight – The crisis team arrive and I’m taken to the nurse’s office. I’m told there are only two people working on the crisis team that night and they are manning all the cases in the hospital and have to respond to all the calls which are coming in. They aren’t allowed to lone work. I’m asked many questions. My options are to stay in their care or to allow them to put in a referral to Safe Spaces that weekend with them coming out to see me daily and making regular phone calls. They will apply for a support worker from Smart Moves. They will get me in to see a GP to get my medication. Someone will come to my house at 9am in the morning.
00.30am – I’m allowed to leave the ward. I have no money. It’s the middle of the night. It’s raining. I walk home.
1am – I get in. Collapse to the floor. Weep. I’ve never felt more confused.
The days, weeks, months, years which followed weren’t easy – I did get evicted from my home, I was indeed homeless for a while, I have had to fight for treatment, I still have days I hide and rely on my cats as a reason to take care of myself. I’m still not recovered from that day and the events which surrounded it. There are more reasons than I’ve written for how I ended up in that position and I’ve had more dealings with the mental health system than I would ever care to recall. Some good. Lots bad. But I’m still here. My cats are still my main motivation to keep going but I also have other things too – I have Expert Citizens, I have peer mentoring with Voices, I have the beginnings of a career in the arts. All these are things I never would have dreamed of doing before that day. I probably would have remained in my admin job which I didn’t like, getting stressed over targets I knew were impossible to meet, having no time or energy to pursue any interests, remaining lonely and isolated. Three years on and I’m almost glad things got as bad as they did. It’s made me look at myself and things around me differently, yet my ultimate goal hasn’t changed – I still want freedom from my mental health issues. However, my solution then was to stop fighting and now I know the solution is to never give up. To persevere regardless of the thoughts, the circumstances, the people around me which keep trying to paralyse me. So fuck off to the thoughts. Fuck off to the circumstances. Fuck off to those people. I’m worth more than that.